The Cleveland Browns have an opportunity on Sunday to pick up one of those “signature wins” that many obsess about.
A victory against the Tennessee Titans would give the Browns their second win against a team with a winning record in 2020. It would also complete a sweep of the AFC South Division and, most importantly, leave the Browns with the playoff tiebreaker over both the Titans and Indianapolis Colts.
To accomplish that, however, the Browns are going to have to overcome the imposing challenge of Tennessee running back Derrick Henry, who comes into the game after rushing for 178 yards and three touchdowns last week against the Colts. Henry currently leads the NFL with 1,257 rushing yards, to go along with 12 rushing touchdowns and seven 100-yard games.
In three career games against Henry, the Browns have actually done a decent job as they have held Henry to 104 rushing yards, 3.06 yards per carry and just one touchdown. (We’ll just all agree to forget his 75-yard touchdown on a screen pass in the opening game of 2019, yes?)
While the Browns defense has been better against the run this season — they are 11th in the league allowing 4.1 yards per carry and ninth at 108 yards per game — they have struggled at times. Cleveland has given up 100-yard rushing days to James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders and James Robinson of the Jacksonville Jaguars, none of whom compare to Henry.
The game could come down to the Browns being able to accomplish two goals, the first of which is to limit plays like that screen pass from 2019, defensive coordinator Joe Woods told clevelandbrowns.com:
“We can’t control how many touches he’s going to have. Our focus is going to be on having the best run defense and eliminate the big runs. We acknowledge and realize he might have a big run here or there, but we really just have to eliminate the big ones and do our best to get him bottled up before he gets going.”
The second is to make sure the Titans do not take a lead into the fourth quarter. Much like how the Browns want to break the opposition down in the final quarter, the Titans turn to Henry and he currently leads all running back with 431 rushing yards and five touchdowns in the fourth quarter of games.
The Titans are in many ways a mirror image of the Browns when it comes to winning a game, which is eliminate mistakes and let the running game take over at the end.
The Browns have a clear idea of what it will take to win on Sunday; it remains to be seen if they can show the Titans what it feels like to be on the wrong end of a punishing run game.